Sunday, 6 April 2014

A Transom from the Nova Scotia Sea School

Our collection acquired a special artifact last year that connects the Museum to an intertwined story of adventure, learning and compassion.

The newly donated transom, MMA, M2013.18.1

The Nova Scotia Sea School presented the Museum with the transom of their training boat Dorothea. This is a 30-foot sailing and rowing boat used in the school's educational programs. The boat was built in 1995 and received a major refit last year which included replacing the transom, that elegant wineglass shape that forms the stern of many traditional boats. The Sea School presented the old transom to the Museum in recognition of our longstanding partnership with this special community group.

The Nova Scotia Sea School was founded in 1994. Founder Crane Stookey combined a passion for the sea from years as deck officer on Tall Ships with a passion for working with teenagers and training in Buddhist philosophy. The Sea School uses boats to developing a contemplative and responsible approach to life rooted in the experience of co-operative adventures in boats.

Courtesy Nova Scotia Sea School
Dorothea was built at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic from 1994 to 1995. The lines were taken from the double-ended Sable Island surf boat in the museum collection, slightly redesigned with this elegant transom. The original surf boats supplied the rescue crews and their families who were based on the famous and dangerous island.

Courtesy Nova Scotia Sea School
The Sea School has since built 16 wooden boats as part of its programs, ranging in size from 8 feet to 30 feet and has logged over 9,000 hours on the water in these boats. At the launch of the refitted Dorothea on May 11, 2013, the Sea school presented the old transom to the Museum.

Dan Conlin and Eamonn Doorly accept the transom from the Sea School
The old transom can now be seen proudly hung on the walls of the Museum's central boat shed.
You can learn more about the Sea School and its programs on their web site:
Museum Wharves webcam, Nova Scotia Webcams

Dorothea often ties up at the Museum wharves when her programs operate out of Halifax.

Dorothea's two masts can be seen to the right of the Museum's south wharf in this view from the Museum's webcam, just off the bow of our neighbour, the restored corvette HMCS Sackville.

Museum Wharves webcam, Nova Scotia Webcams

Soon after Dorothea's relaunch, the boat made headlines when she was briefly stolen on June 20, 2013, but soon recovered. You can just make out the Dorothea near the stern of HMCS Sackville in this view, as the hapless, young thrill seekers attempt a getaway. After their arrest, the Sea School characteristically reached out, noting that the misguided mariners are typical of many teenagers that the Sea School seeks to work with in its programs.

Compassion has been a central idea behind the Dorothea, including the choice of her name. The boat is named after Dorothea Dix (1802-1887), a remarkable social reformer from Boston. She is noted for campaigning to improve the lives of prisoners, the poor and people with mental illness.

Dorothea Dix portrait by S.B. Waugh, US National Portrait Gallery, Wikimedia
In 1853, Dix was drawn to Nova Scotia to investigate reports of mentally-ill people being abandoned by their families on Sable Island. She visited Sable Island and found the reports were no longer true, but while there witnessed and assisted in a shipwreck rescue. Upon her return to Boston, she led a successful campaign to send advanced lifesaving equipment to Sable Island, including new rescue boats. Compassion, community activism and boats make Dorothea a natural choice to honour in the lead boat of the Nova Scotia Sea School.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Tired of Ice and Snow?

Photograph by Frederick William Wallace, WPA H25, MMA MP400.109.2

Those wearied by this winter's ice and snow might want to look into the eyes of Monty Muise, photographed by Frederick William Wallace aboard the schooner Dorothy G. Snow in March 1916. The schooner was on a fishing voyage from Digby to Browns Bank in what Wallace called "a rough, dirty trip".

Titled "Iced Up", the photograph shows how freezing spray can coat a ship with a thick layer of ice. This can make a ship dangerously top-heavy, so the ice has to be smashed off with wooden mallets.

In his book, A Camera on the Banks: Frederick William Wallace and the Fishermen of Nova Scotia, the historian Brook Taylor recounts a grueling winter survival story about Monty Muise.  On a previous voyage, Muise became separated from his schooner in a thick snow storm. His dory contained no food and only a little water. He had no choice but to row towards the distant coastline, far over the horizon. "It was awful rough at times and I'd have to knock off pullin' and git to bailin' the water out of the dory. It was freezing cold  too, and the dory was icing up, and I'd have to knock the ice off of her." Muise was rescued by a passing three masted schooner on the third day. After some soup and coffee in the galley, Muise noticed that they were passing near Shelburne, so he asked to be put over the side with his dory. He rowed over ten miles up Shelburne Harbour and walked into town to get "fixed up" with friends. He was, in Wallace's words, "as tough in physical fibre as they make 'em".

This photograph is from the Museum's Frederick William Wallace Collection, a remarkable assembly of meticulously documented photographs of schooners and their men made by Wallace as he sailed and worked with them in the early 20th century.

Closer to home, some more remarkable winter images can be seen on the blog of Martin Hubley, the Curator of History at the Nova Scotia Museum.  He has assembled some rare and odd shoots of snowy sidewalks from years past from the NSM History Collection.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

A Holiday Message: Using a ship model to teach children a life lesson

MMA, M2004.52.1&2, Gift of Evelyn Campbell, photo by Gerry Lunn
As Registrar, I have the pleasure of collecting and handling all kinds of artifacts: from small to large, fragile to robust, and from inexpensive to one-of-a-kind items.
At this time of the year, it is always fun to go into the museum’s storage rooms, like elves in a toy room, searching for items that convey the holiday spirit to share with the world. This year we have selected some nautical Christmas cards and two ship models with a heart-warming Christmas story.
A couple of these ship models are quite different in comparison to the hundreds of others in our collection.  These are the “Gursky models” which are so unique that, when I was cataloguing them, members of the Ship Model Guild asked me whether we should collect such models for our maritime collection.
My answer was: “These are indeed unique models, they are not replicas of a typical Nova Scotian ship or made by a Nova Scotian shipbuilder, ship owner or a professional ship modeler, but they were built by a young Nova Scotian lady and her father, and the purpose was to tell a family story.  I felt that an exception should be made and that we add these to our collection.
You see, once upon a time, a father, Mr. Campbell, felt his two young daughters were becoming too materialistic and so he wanted to teach them a lesson.   One Christmas, more than thirty years ago, Mr. Campbell wrapped two very big presents and placed them under the Christmas tree with the tag addressed to his daughters from a “Mr Gursky ” a ficticious name he made up.
On Christmas morning, the children rushed in delight, to open the big box and found: a cabbage and a turnip.  They weren’t disappointed though - they thought it was very funny.  The next year, Mr. Gursky gave the children an old dirty sock.  Not only did the tradition continue, but it became more joyous as the two sisters started making their own gifts to return to Mr Gursky, silly things, like an empty box, etc.  Then, one of the daughters built the large schooner model. 
The model was brought out at Christmas time, year after year and once even accompanied the family to Florida.   Then, the Florida trips became more regular and  Mr. Campbell was not pleased with the hassles involved in taking the model back and forth from Florida, through customs, etc.  As a result, the smaller model, Gursky II was built. 
For some 30 plus years, this tradition continued in the Campbell family and now we are fortunate enough to have these models as part of our collection.
This sweet, inspiring story of the Gursky tradition is rooted in the deeper meaning of Christmas. These ship models were chosen to relay this message.
I hope this helps readers to see that artifacts are not just things, that most of them have a story to tell, and that this story is one to warm our hearts at Christmas ….. and maybe  everyday of our lives.
Please come down to the Museum to see the Gursky models and our wonderful Christmas card exhibit which will be on display until the end of January.
On behalf of all the collections staff at the Maritime Museum, Happy Holidays to one and all.
Lynn-Marie Richard, Registrar, Maritime Museum of the Atlantic

                                                 Photo: Courtesy of Gerry Lunn, Maritime Museum of the Atlantic

Monday, 16 December 2013

Museum Silent Night

A winter moonrise over CSS Acadia and the Museum wharves.

Sharp lookouts will spot the Woodside ferry moving right with her red portside running light. As peaceful as can be, the image was actually taken just as I wrapped up a workday at 5:30 pm this evening.

Let this calm and bright image be a wish for a happy holiday from the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Halifax Harbour Remembers the Halifax Explosion

On December 6, our Museum participated in an evocative tribute to the Halifax Explosion, the disaster that struck Halifax in 1917 when the ammunition ship Mont-Blanc blew up and killed nearly 2,000 people. Haligonian Fred Honsberger worked with the Royal Canadian Navy and the Waterfront Development Corporation to have ships sound their horns all around the harbour at 9:05 am, the moment of the explosion.

Randal Tomada, of our Visitor Service Staff, captured the sight and sounds in this evocative pan of the wharves around the museum beside our 100-year-old steamship CSS Acadia.You can hear Acadia's original ship's bell tolling away as the chorus builds.

(You can also watch Randal's video and visitor comments on the Museum's Facebook page.) 

The sounds from the ships could be heard across downtown Halifax where they blended with church bells. The sound-scape was preceded by the boom of the signal cannon at the Halifax Citadel. From the waterfront, the cacophonous fugue underscored an eerie scene. The harbour was cloaked in mist, reminiscent of the smoke that shrouded the port immediately after the explosion. Even the black steel masts of the harbour tour schooner Silva reminded us of the masts of SS Imo which loomed over the shattered shoreline after the blast.

The Harbour after the explosion in a detail from a panoramic photograph by Maclaughlin with SS Imo to left and HMS Highflyer to right. MMA, MP207.1.184/1b
The flags that you can see flying from Acadia in the video have a special meaning. Acadia was in Halifax Harbour on the morning of the Halifax Explosion. Normally a research ship, wartime needs had drafted her into the Royal Canadian Navy as HMCS Acadia. That day, she was serving as the Bedford Basin guard ship with the job of controlling the movement of neutral ships like SS Imo. The Navy informed Acadia that Imo was cleared to leave, so Acadia hoisted a fateful message at 7:30 am which spelled out, in the International Code of Signals, this message:

 J      The signal flag call sign for 
G             "Steamship Imo"
T      The signal flag shorthand for:
X  "You may proceed to sea when ready"

We know these were the exact flags flown by Acadia on that morning because the Inquiry into the collision grilled Acadia's officer on duty about exactly what flags he used. Although Acadia was blameless for the departure that had been approved by the Navy, circumstance put her in the centre of the tragic movements leading to the disaster. Minutes after she steamed past Acadia, the outgoing Imo collided with the incoming Mont-Blanc in the narrowest part of the harbour, triggering the deadly explosion. Shielded by a ridge of land, Acadia received only minor damage but the blast and tidal wave leveled the north end of Halifax and Dartmouth on a day that the city will never forget.

Imo on the blasted Dartmouth side of the harbour after the explosion. MMA,MP207.1.184/270

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Pennies From Hell

This pile of pennies was melted together by the fires of the Halifax Explosion. On December 6, 1917 the French ammunition ship Mont-Blanc exploded in Halifax Harbour after a collision with the Norwegian ship Imo. Nearly 2,000 people were killed in the largest man-made explosion prior to the  Atomic Age.

MMA M2013.32.1, Gift of Stephen Innocent in memory of Tom Rodgers
Our Museum tells this story with our web pages about the Halifax Explosion, but most powerfully with objects like these. This stack of melted and fused coins was found on the street somewhere in Halifax's Richmond District by Tom Rodgers, an 18-year-old milk deliveryman. He was not injured by the explosion and used his horse and cart to take wounded people to hospitals and later to collect bodies of victims. His was one of many delivery wagons and slovens (the low heavy cargo wagons commonly used on the Halifax waterfront) which were enlisted in this way by the police and army. For many years Tom Rodgers would tell his family that he could still hear the sound his wagon wheels made as they crunched over the broken glass which covered the streets of Halifax.

These are the large 2.5 mm wide old-style pennies which were often called "coppers". (Canada switched to the smaller 1.9 cm pennies in 1920.) The 1907 penny at the top of the melted stack was minted in Britain for Canada as the Royal Canadian Mint did not open until 1908.

A detail of the top penny, MMA M2013.32.1, photo by Gerry Lunn

The Museum's conservator Chris Lavergne explored how the pennies could have reached this state. These pennies were 95% copper which begins to melt at 1,084 degrees Celcius. House fires reach 1,100 degrees, easily enough to soften and fuse copper coins. The stack was perhaps in a coin holder which held them together. They may have been strewn into the street by the collapse of a burning building.

The pennies would have come from burned-out ruins such as these in Richmond, seen in this photograph looking down from Fort Needham Hill towards the Halifax drydock. Note SS Imo beached on the Dartmouth shore.
Martin Hubley at the Nova Scotia Museum History Collection arranged for Stephen Innocent, the step-grandson of Tom Rodgers, to donate the pennies to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic .  This object joins thousands of other Halifax Explosion artifacts at the Maritime Museum, which has preserved Canada's largest collection of objects from this terrible day in our history.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Christmas Shoebox Program

Museum interpreter Matthew Hughson with his annual Christmas shoebox display
Mariners often find themselves far from family and friends on the holidays; frequently living in isolated and austere shipboard quarters where everyday comforts and luxuries are in short supply.  To help remember mariners in this season, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic was pleased to partner with the Halifax Mission to Seafarers during the annual Christmas shoebox program.

Each December shoeboxes are filled with items bound for the crews of visiting ships in Halifax Harbour.

A typical Christmas shoebox - we supply the box if you can supply some of the content.

We welcome your donations of:
  • Hats, Scarfs, Gloves & Socks
  • Tooth Paste, Tooth Brush, Soap, Shampoo, Deodorant, Shaving Cream & Disposable Razors
  • Note Paper, Envelopes, Postcards, Pen & Hard Candy
  • Signed greeting cards along with small mementos  
  • (Please note we cannot accept cookies or chocolate.)

 We take care of the box but welcome your donation of any of the above. 
 And as a special thank you, we'll give a museum family day pass to anyone bringing in a Christmas donation. (Only one pass per donation per visit, please)

Donations were accepted at the museum until Wednesday, December 18.
Thanks to generous gifts, we filled a record 49 shoe boxes this year!
The shoebox tradition harkens back to wartime tradition of sending gift bags to sailors. In World War II, it was organized by the Navy League of Canada for Canadian naval and merchant sailors. The gift bags were called "Ditty Bags", after the small bags used by sailors for centuries to hold personal belongings

World War II ditty bag in the Museum's Convoy Exhibit. Courtesy the Navy League of Canada

Back in World War II, the ditty gift bags contained contents that were very similar to the Christmas shoeboxes,but slightly different:

  • Soap
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • A flat of 50 "smokes"
  • Writing paper, pen, pencil and envelopes
  • Reading material such as a Canadian magazine
  • And knitted socks and scarves

Knitting warm comforts like socks scarves and hats was a big part of the effort behind these wartime gifts. Similar programs also helped Canadians in the Army and Air Force as well as to prisoners of war and wartime refugees such as British families made homeless by bombing during the "Blitz". The Canadian Red Cross was a key organizer of many of these programs and in 1940 published a much used booklet called "Red Cross Knitting Instructions for War Work". Here is a charming pair of photographs from the Nova Scotia Archives virtual exhibit An East Coast Port : Halifax in Wartime 1939-1945 entitled "Harriet knitting Mittens for Britons".

E.A. Bollinger NSARM accession no. 1975-305 1942 no. 655-14f

The posed but charming photograph show Harriot Spurr puzzling her way through the detailed instructions in the Red Cross booklet.

 A page from the same booklet is shown on the right, from a well-used copy of "Red Cross Knitting Instructions for War Work" in the Museum's research files.

(Don't feel you have to knit your own gloves or socks for the Museum's Christmas shoebox!)

These charitable wartime efforts were promoted not only by the Navy League and the Red Cross but also by textile companies who saw a good way to enhance their wartime image - and sell more wool.

Below is a detail from a booklet by the Monarch Knitting Company of Dunnville, Ontario showing how gift gloves were supposed to look, with a happy sailor and two soldiers giving the knitter thumbs- up from what looks to be the deck of a troop ship.

And it wasn't just knitting - groups of volunteer women also got together to make warm work clothes. The vest below may look like a piece of cool hippy fashion from the 1960s, but it is a piece of World War II charitable work. Volunteers with the IODE, the Imperial Order of Daughters of the Empire, had cut up their leather purses and lady's gloves into small squares to make this leather vest for a merchant mariner.

 MMA, M2001.58.1

So like this woman in the Monarch booklet, in the spirit of thinking of those in need far from home, if you could spare any Christmas shoebox items, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic and the Halifax Mission to Seafarers would welcome your contribution.

 For additional information:
Richard MacMichael